A Harmony of Flavors

Monday, December 16, 2013

Trying Some New Recipes for Cookies

Russian Tea Cakes, aka Snowballs
I have finally begun my baking for this season. I started by sitting down and creating three new cookie recipes, on paper, plus one fudge recipe. I have made the three new cookie doughs, and today I baked the first of those. The ones I baked are called Chocolate Hazelnut Pepperballs, and I topped them with Caramelized White Chocolate Ganache. That last did not quite turn out as I hoped, but it sure tastes good. I also baked one of the new recipes from last year; Pistachio Tea Cookies, using Matcha Green Tea Powder as an ingredient. Both these cookies are modeled on the shortbread type cookies my family always called Russian Tea Cakes. These are also called Snowballs and other things, but I love calling them Russian Tea Cakes, and so they remain.

Unsalted, shelled pistachios,
alongside the ground nut meal
For the Pistachio Tea Cookies, I used unsalted, shelled pistachios. I found them at either Amazon.com, or at www.Nuts.com. Unsalted pistachios make these cookies far more palatable, so look for them if you try this recipe. I have a Vita Mix blender and used the container with the blade for grinding dry ingredients, placed the pistachios in and on a fairly low speed, chopped the nuts. Precaution: do not keep the Vita Mix on too long, or it will heat the nuts and you will end up with pistachio butter instead of nicely ground pistachios. I poured them into al old Tupperware colander and used a spoon to help the finer bits pass through into a bowl to measure. This keeps any bits that stayed a little too large out of the mixture. I ate the remaining larger bits for a snack ;-)

The new recipe for Chocolate Hazelnut Pepperballs turned out okay, but I believe since it has been so vary cold here, and with the heat running constantly, my flour and other ingredients might be drier than normal. I had to add in a couple tablespoons of water to try and get the dough to hold together enough to form the balls. As a precaution, I state here below to use 1/2 cup less flour in the mixture than what I used. This gives the option of adding in more of an extra 1/2 cup if it is needed. for proper consistency

Chocolate Hazelnut Pepperballs

Chocolate Hazelnut Pepperballs
with Caramelized White Chocolate Ganache
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (+ 1/2 cup in reserve)
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ancho chili powder (not the "chili powder" for making chili!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hazelnut meal (I used Bob's Red Mill brand)

Cream together the butter and confectioners' sugar. Add in the vanilla and mix to combine. Separately, sift or whisk together the dry ingredients, reserving the half cup of the flour aside in case it is needed later. Cut the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture with a pastry cutter or two knives, or even your fingers. It should be very crumbly, but be able to hold together when squeezed into a ball shape. Chill the dough before using.

When ready to bake, set the oven to 375 (or 350 if Convection). Form small balls, about 1-inch in diameter and set them about an inch or more apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake the cookies for 13 to 15 minutes, or until set.

At this point, the cookies may be rolled in confectioners' sugar, or a mixture of confectioners' sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder (my original intent). Instead, I chose to try something out that I saw some time back on Food 52: making Caramelized White Chocolate. The concept sounded easy enough, though they used Valrhona 34% Valrhona Ivoire FĂȘves. I checked online and they do not have these little white chocolate discs on the Valrhona site, but they have a white chocolate bar, about a half pound, with 35% cocoa butter. All I had on hand was Ghirardelli White Chocolate. It did not have the percentage of cocoa butter on the label, though the first ingredient listed was cocoa butter. I hoped for the best.

The recipe on Food 52 stated that you heat the oven to low, about 266 degrees. The process should take about 45 minutes, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes. They cautioned that if the percentage of cocoa butter is lower, it could seize, or at the least, not melt properly, though they offer ways around that.

I broke up the Ghirardelli white chocolate bars onto a baking sheet and set them in the oven: top picture in the column. After 10 minutes, when I went to stir, it  had noticeably softened, but did not allow for any real "stirring". Rather it began crumbling, and the outer edges were already a little darker: second picture in the column. After 10 more minutes the whole mass became crumbly and was already quite brown: third photo in the column. Seeing that my white chocolate was obviously not going to act like Valrhona's (it was already "done" after only 20 minutes,, so maybe my oven runs hotter than it should), I opted to try for a sort of ganache. I heated 1/4 cup of heavy cream to just a simmer and set it over a double boiler with simmering water. I poured the whole pan of the darkened and crumbly white chocolate into the cream and stirred for a few minutes. While not totally smooth, it was certainly smooth enough to work with. I used this to top my Chocolate Hazelnut Pepperballs. It was not the prettiest topping, and I intend to try some other options with the remaining "ganache". For now, this batch of cookies was done.

Another couple of recipes for cookie dough are in the refrigerator, ready to work with when I have the time. One is called Gingerspice Cookies; the goal with this recipe being a nicely spiced cookie that is not a typical gingerbread cookie.  Another one is called Cardamom Almond Cookies. I have made something similar in the past, but this mixture is new. Once I bake them I will have them here to show them off.

Happy Holiday Baking to all, and to all a good night!


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter